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by Deborah Ripley
The New York Art Book Fair, Oct. 24-26, 2008, at Phillips de Pury, 450 West 15th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011

Typically, the notion of "book collecting" conjures up images of dark and musty shops, filled with elderly professorial types, perusing shelves lined with leather-bound tomes.

That would most definitely not be the New York Art Book Fair. The brainchild of Printed Matter executive director A.A. Bronson along with Printed Matter associate director Max Schumann -- both contemporary artists of some note -- the New York Art Book Fair was launched three years ago and mimics in many respects their own Printed Matter shop on Tenth Avenue in Chelsea. The fair is irreverent and fun-filled, peopled by young dealers, young artists and their wild book creations. And there are treasures too, rare and special.

At the gala opening for the fair, held for the first time at Philips de Pury & Co., the cranberry vodka cocktails were flowing and the vinyl was pumping. Bronson was at the entrance in a purple smock, greeting guests and handing out copies of a limited edition Jonathan Monk multiple -- a sheet of heavy white paper dotted with Braille -- for their $20 admission fee. The Braille text is purportedly a transcription of Monk reading about the multiple.

On the wall behind the Printed Matter table was the world’s largest zine, measuring 28 x 38 inches and silkscreened in a small edition of two, made by artist and K48 zine publisher Scott Hug. With its grainy grey and yellow images from the NASA space program interspersed with gay porn, the work is graphically arresting. Hug explained that as a gay teenager he was fascinated by NASA and fantasized about joining the manly gang in space. "Kind of like a bunch of Boy Scouts," he said.

Exhibitors from New York City to Oslo and Toyko showcased both new art and classic works. One standout at London’s Sims Reed was a very rare and tiny 1934 book by Hans Bellmer, Die Puppe, with 10 original photos of his doll collages. The price: £50,000. Another highlight was the new offering from Visionaire, the New York-based style magazine: a special pop-up book of works by 11 artists, including Andreas Gursky and Yayoi Kusama. A limited edition, it was selling briskly for $250.

Allen Ruppersberg was on hand at the gala, eyeing a 2006 publication offered by bookseller Andrew Roth, Cyanide & Sin: Visualizing Crime in ’50s America by Will Straw -– an exhaustive survey of 1950s pulp covers. Also seen was Deborah Wye, curator of prints at the Museum of Modern Art, who seemed to be in pursuit of On Kawara’s I Got Up, a 12-volume, 4,160-page publication covering the years 1968-78, when the celebrated conceptual artist sent postcards with the eponymous statement to two people every day. The publisher is Brussels dealer Michele Didier; the price is $18,700.

Also back by popular demand was Friendly Fire, the curated section of booths for artists and independent publishers, where much of the antic creative energy was centered. The fair schedule was dense with book signings, readings, silkscreen demos, queer zines and films. All in all, an irresistible event -- and admission was free.

For artist’s book lovers, more is in store: the 11th annual Editions/Artist’s Book Fair opens at the Tunnel in Chelsea, Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 2008. For more info, see

DEBORAH RIPLEY is Artnet’s print expert.